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After defying world with nuclear test, N. Korea seeks flood aid

TOKYO — Floods that inundated North Korea last month are turning out to be worse than initially feared, with at least 133 people killed and more than 100,000 homeless, according to aid workers who visited the area last week.

That puts Pyongyang in the inconvenient position of having to turn to the international community for help — at the same time the country is facing global condemnation after its latest nuclear test.

‘‘The effects of this flooding will be even more dramatic and devastating than initially thought,’’ said Chris Staines, head of the Pyongyang office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. ‘‘The people there are in a very desperate situation.’’


Staines was part of a group of 22 international and local staff from 13 aid agencies stationed in Pyongyang who last week visited the northern city of Hoeryong, across the Tumen River from China.

Severe floods ripped through the area Aug. 30 as Typhoon Lionrock lashed northeast Asia. North Korean authorities initially estimated that 44,000 people had been displaced between Onsong in the north and Musan, a major mining center 100 miles down river.

The government has since said 133 people have been confirmed dead and another 395 are missing, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday.

At least 140,000 people also are in urgent need of assistance, OCHA said, including the estimated 100,000 who have been displaced. About 600,000 people have had their water supply cut.

Tens of thousands of houses and public buildings have collapsed, while railways, roads, factories, and crops have been destroyed or submerged, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korean news reports said the flooding was caused by the ‘‘strongest storm and heaviest downpour’’ since the end of World War I, though the claim couldn’t be verified.


‘‘The damage is very extensive and there is clear evidence that the floodwaters were not only very high — you can see the water marks above the window frames — but also moving very rapidly in some places,’’ Staines said by Skype from Pyongyang.

The authorities took the aid workers, some of whom represented UN agencies, to a pumping station near Hoeryong that had been wiped out, leaving 50,000 people without water, and medical clinics that had been destroyed. Kitchen gardens and household livestock — chickens, ducks, pigs — had also been washed away, Staines said.

In some areas, communication links remain cut and roads are impassable.

North Korean authorities had initially asked aid agencies to help with relief efforts using their existing budgets and supplies. But now officials plan to launch international appeals for donations.

Their timing could hardly be worse. On Friday, Kim Jong Un ordered North Korea’s fifth nuclear test and its largest yet, triggering international calls for more sanctions to punish the regime.

With so many other crises around the world competing for donations, agencies operating in North Korea — including the United Nations’ World Food Program and UNICEF, as well as a handful of European organizations — have confronted difficulty raising money for several years and have had to scale back operations.

Soldiers and construction workers have been sent to the disaster area, the Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea is particularly prone to flooding because of deforestation and a tendency to turn every inch of arable land over to crops. Houses, particularly in the downtrodden northern areas, are often made of substandard locally produced bricks.